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Sour Power

Casa Agria finds its sweet spot with sour and farmhouse-style ales.

By Emily Savage

Photo by T Christian Gapen

Eric Drew and Michael Weyandt sample brews aging in oak casks at Casa Agria.

 

hen thinking of beer, most people don’t typically conjure up images of ripe, fresh fruits. This is where Ventura County-based sour brewery Casa Agria stands out from the pack.

Blackberries, raspberries, peaches, apricots, mango, passion fruit — any berry you can think of really — have all been featured within Casa Agria’s tart, fruity sours.

“We’ll take upwards of a thousand pounds of local fruit and age six barrels on that for months,” explains co-owner Michael Weyandt, 40, of Simi Valley. “And then the really concentrated fruit sour, we’ll blend that in fresh sour bases to get a balance of fruit and sour.”

Weyandt says their passion fruit-guava beer has been one of the most popular varieties they sell — “Everybody loves the guava beer” — but adds that the fruity options in general are the most popular of the sour beers they offer. “If we take the same base beer and add fruit, it’s going to sell.”

All these beers are sold out of Casa Agria’s 3,600-square foot taproom in Oxnard, a beautiful space with 120 barrels surrounding a handful of tall tables, a small bar area, a vintage Simpsons arcade game, and frequent food trucks parked out front. There are typically 10 to 12 sours on tap, including saisons, and two to three hazy IPAS. While a handful of other breweries in the Ventura County area have from time to time offered their own sours, Casa Agria is the only local brewery primarily focused on them. The name itself even means “Sour House.” 

Casa Agria’s origins are as unique as their offerings. The brewery began as a homebrew passion between two architects, Weyandt and Eric Drew, 40, now Casa Agria’s head brewer. Weyandt and Drew are longtime friends who were college roommates at the University of Oregon, though both originally came from Ventura County — Weyandt from Simi Valley and Drew from Ventura.

After grad school in Los Angeles, Weyandt met back up with Drew at an architecture firm in Ventura, and the two began homebrewing in Weyandt’s Simi Valley garage. After entering and winning several homebrew contests, they began toying with the idea of starting a brewery. With the help of Ryan Exline, who was very plugged into the local brewing community, and later, Terre Haff, the four were able to create Casa Agria in late 2015.

They decided to focus on sours because they were most interesting to Weyandt and Drew on a scientific level. “Eric and I, being bookworms and coming from an architecture background, it’s always like we focus on something and learn as much as we can about it. We fell in the love with the process.”

During their sour-beer education, they visited Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa and Sante Adairius in Capitola, just south of Santa Cruz. Weyandt says it was interesting to see how different all their techniques and methods were — and none completely divulged their process.

Casa Agria’s own blending process has evolved as the principles have learned more, but it’s something of a cross between making beer and wine. The concoctions will sit in different wine barrels for periods of time — hence the 120 barrels in the taproom. Weyandt says he and Drew often sit down together and pour samples, weighing if sips are too acidic, too sour or not sour enough. They may then return to the barrels for more oak character or blend together for a more distinctive flavor.

Weyandt says they focus on sours also because they were both interested in the farmhouse style of brewing. This includes, among other things, using their own wild yeast, as opposed to store-bought. For their yeast, Drew did a test batch of wort and let it sit overnight on a ranch in Santa Paula.

“So whatever bacteria and yeast is flying in the air, it will inoculate the beer, and when it inoculates the beers you can ferment and that will become sour,” explains Weyandt.

They captured the yeast and bacteria, catalogued it, and sent it out to a yeast bank. It has a distinct flavor that they add to some (but not all) of their beers.

“It’s interesting to see how our yeast and bacteria evolve over time,” he adds. “They change but we try to keep consistency.”

Before Casa Agria even became a company, it began sending out test samples to beer bloggers and people in the industry, including the Oxnard Beer Club, to ask for feedback. What they got was hundreds of emails asking if they had a bottle club, essentially a membership that would allow beer enthusiasts first picks at new bottles. “We ended up selling 400 memberships before we had a commercial beer,” says Weyandt

“It grew organically like that,” says Weyandt. “I kind of relate it to being in a band or something like that, it’s totally grassroots.”

The membership is now up to 450 loyal and supportive members, who get 10 bottles a year, along with other perks such as first rights to purchase any public release of sour bottles of IPA cans. As if to further punctuate the band metaphor, Weyandt adds, “We’ll have an IPA can release and sell three quarters of our batch to members, and then we’ll have a line of 100 people on the day of the opening and it will sell out.”

Devoted beer club members and taproom enthusiasts aside, Casa Agria still has an uphill battle with local name recognition. Weyandt is hoping that will change as more people get to know their unique brand of sours — especially with the expansion of their space coming in 2018. It’s 8,000 square feet in the same building but in the front of the space, street-side with more opportunity for street exposure.

“We’re going to double our capacity,” Weyandt says. “Hopefully we’ll keep growing the membership but also get people who have never heard of us to try us.” 

Casa Agria
701 N. Del Norte Blvd., #310, Oxnard. 
805.485.1454 or CasaAgria.com

DELICIOUSLY DIFFERENT

With more and more breweries popping up locally, Ventura County beer lovers are blessed with an excess of superior options: Casa Agria’s sour ales, MadeWest Brewery or Ventura Coast Brewing Company’s IPAs, Enegren Brewing’s German-style lagers and American pilsners.

Get to know a few unique beers and brewers in Ventura County, each with its own distinct style.

Leashless Brewing (585 E. Thompson Blvd., Ventura, www.leashlessbrewing.com) is the latest in downtown Ventura, opening just this month. Leashless is offering some gluten-reduced beers, and all the Belgian-style beers will be certified organic, making it the feel-good choice for those looking to lower gluten intake or keep it organic, while still enjoying an adult beverage.

Ojai Valley Brewery (at Azu, 457 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai, www.azuojai.com) is a nanobrewery and sister business to Azu Restaurant and Bar that offers beers filled with bits of local flavor, like sage, California Medjool Dates, and of course, Ojai pixie tangerines. Rather than focus on the well-worn territory of IPAs, Ojai Valley Brewery instead specializes in “dry, malt-forward lagers and light-bodied ales.”

Poseidon Brewing Company (5777 Olivas Park Dr, Ventura, www.poseidonbrewingco.com) offers a crisp Grapefruit IPA — brewed with grapefruit zest from Mud Creek Ranch in Santa Paula — that is one of its top sellers. The décor features reclaimed wood throughout, along with lamps hanging above the bar that resemble vintage diving masks. These along with the old-timey, salty-sailor-meets-mermaid motif are reason enough to visit the relatively diminutive space next door to local favorite Beacon Coffee. 

Institution Ale Company (3841 Mission Oaks Blvd., Camarillo, www.institutionales.com) last summer released beers such as an Imperial Stout with roasted coffee beans from Beacon, in a limited release in-house batch dubbed “Batch 002 W/ Coffee.” Institution also celebrated a huge milestone in 2016, a supersized addition to their brewery and tasting room, making it now 14,000 square feet, with a full kitchen.

 

07-01-2017

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